“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” John 15:4 (KJV)
There is no other place to begin, and the Lord knew that as He began teaching me what my role was as a wife. I had to begin in Him. I have always been an extremely independent person, and I have prided myself in that fact. That is why I had to have so many failed attempts at being a godly wife. I had to realize that there was absolutely no way that I could do it in my own power and will. For me, I had to be so discouraged at the impossibility of the task at hand that I had no other place to look than to Jesus.
After many tries and just as many failures I came to God and said, “Lord, what You are asking of me is simply not attainable. I know You have given us the example of the Proverbs 31 woman, but who can really achieve that? It’s just a goal, something to strive for, but not a reality. I mean, after all, I am human. I am not a horrible wife; I just have a few weak areas, but who doesn’t? I have tried, I have prayed, I have read all the Scriptures, but it is just impossible.”
Then in His soft, gentle voice my faithful, heavenly Father answered me, “ You’re absolutely right.” I was stunned into silence, which for me is quite an accomplishment. “But Lord, I don’t understand. Why the conviction, why the standard, if it’s just impossible?” His answer resonated deep within my heart, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” I sighed a heavy sigh, one filled with conviction and understanding. The Lord continued, “My daughter, don’t you see that it is I alone that can achieve this through you. I do not set you up for failure. When you insist on doing it in your own strength and ability, all I can do is wait for you to recognize that with man my standards are impossible, but now that you see this we can begin. Are you ready my child to let go of your vain attempts and begin to allow me to work in you?”
Begin? That was the hardest word for me to swallow. I had been trying to tackle these areas in my life for two years, and now after all those tries we could begin. My response was slow, “Yes, Lord, I am a desperate. I have tried, so I know that I cannot do this alone. I want You to work in me and through me. I want You to have Your way in my life.” My shoulders slumped. I felt much like the man in Mark who asked Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son. When Jesus stated that anything is possible for him who believes, the father replied in Mark 9:24 “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” I desperately longed for God to work this change in me, but I just didn’t know how to get out of the way. Let me encourage you as the Lord encouraged me. He looks at the desires of our hearts. He honors our honest pleas for help and humility. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” Psalm 37:4-6
My former pastor used to state that an object in motion could be guided, so just get moving. The Lord needed me to take the initial step, and then He could illuminate the next and the next and so on.
After picking myself up with a renewed determination, I looked to the Lord and inquired, “Where do we begin?” His answer? “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”
The next step for me to take was to figure out what it means to abide. The NIV states John 15:4 this way, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Jesus goes on throughout chapter fifteen of the Gospel of John to elaborate on this idea of abiding. Verse five reads, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” The Lord Jesus wanted us to clearly understand that apart from Him we could accomplish nothing as His disciples. He was trying to illustrate the closeness that we must maintain with Him in order to further His Father’s kingdom.
Jesus is speaking to His disciples on the very eve of His betrayal. He knows that they will soon no longer be able to remain with Him in the physical sense. I imagine that our Lord carefully chose each word as He spoke to His small band of followers. He was desperately trying to convey to those eleven men with Him in the vineyard that night, and those of us to follow, that although we see Him not, we must still be with Him, that although we cannot be with Him as the disciples were for those three years on earth, we must still be with Him.
I am a visual learner; so let me share a strange visual with you. Several years back, we had a group of girls from our youth group all get together. During the evening of fun and games we decided to play Scripture charades. We had to mime out different verses. I do not remember the address of the verse or any of the context, but one of the words in this particular Scripture was “with”. The person performing the mime was stuck. Then finally she began to act pregnant. At first none of us had a clue where she was going. Soon one of the leaders blurted out “with child”. Many times in the Old Testament a woman was referred to as being “with child” when she was pregnant. That visual image of the word “with” has stuck with me these many years.
If you are a mother, you know how closely you are with your child while carrying the baby in your womb. As I sit and type at this very moment, I am almost five months pregnant. Let me tell you, there is absolutely no separation between this child and myself -ever. For forty weeks this child and myself are almost one. Although we are two unique individuals, our connection is my baby’s lifeline. This child is completely dependent on me for every aspect of life: breath, rest, food, water, and warmth. The only way in which the baby will grow and develop and continue to have life is if that umbilical cord stays connected to my placenta. Wherever I go, the baby goes with me. I am aware of this baby’s presence in my life every moment, and I am sensitive to his every move.
For me this is a beautiful illustration of what it means to abide in Jesus. As a woman is with child, we must be with Jesus, abiding in Him: abiding in such a close, intimate connection that someone cannot discern a separation. We must be completely dependent upon the Lord for every aspect of life. Just as if something happens to the baby’s umbilical cord, they lose life; we must realize that if we stop abiding with Jesus that our lifeline has been cut. We need to be aware of the presence of Jesus at all times in our lives. The analogy ends here though. The baby in your womb does not choose to receive nourishment from you. He does not choose whether or not he will acknowledge you today. In the act of abiding with Jesus, however, we have a choice to make.
Bruce Wilkinson in his book Secrets of the Vine: Breaking Though to Abundance 1 states, “In the seasons of chastening and pruning, the Vinedresser is proactive. He pursues. He initiates. Our role is to respond. But with abiding we see a 180-degree shift in who initiates the movement toward fruitfulness at the highest level. To abide we must act.” Abiding is our responsibility. It is the Lord’s deepest desire for us, but it our responsibility. As the Lord sovereignly designed for a mother to carry and provide nourishment for her child during those first months of life, He also sovereignly designed abiding so that Jesus could carry and nourish us. We only have to seek. He will always respond, always hear, always wait, but we must pursue. Mr. Wilkinson goes on to later say in his book, “Abiding is all about the most important friendship of your life. Abiding doesn’t measure how much you know about your faith or your Bible. In abiding, you seek, long for, thirst for, wait for, see, know, love, hear and respond to … a person. More abiding means more of God in your life, more of Him in your activities, thoughts and desires. 1
That must be the ultimate desire of our hearts if we are truly going to abide with the Lord. Although this book is about being all that the Lord has called us to be as wives, our lives cannot be consumed with that goal. Our lives must be about being intimate with the Lord Jesus, our King and Redeemer. Everything thing else, such as being a woman of God, will simply be fruit that is naturally produced when we abide in a deep profound friendship with the PERSON of Jesus.
May we cry out with the Psalmist in Psalm 42:1,2 “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
The Real World…
Okay. That all sounds great and spiritual, but let’s talk about the real world. I am a mother of small children. My husband and I work in the ministry at a residential boys home where life rarely slows down and never stops. How do I really abide? It is great in theory and all of us who are sincerely seeking the Lord would say that truly is our desire, but how do we do it?
Well, this is not a magic formula that you can follow for spiritual success. This is not a list that you can meet your “Jesus quota” with each day. These are some foundational aspects of a walk with the Lord that I can guarantee that if missing will certainly distance you from God. They are just the basics that are non-negotiable if true intimacy and abiding is going to happen.
Daily time with the Lord. With too many women, myself included, our times with the Lord are sporadic at best. Our schedules are busy and often unpredictable. Children get sick, babies need to be fed at all hours of the night, husbands need help packing for a trip, and a million other things vie for our time. Let me tell you though, that the only way we will be able to meet the demands of life is if we have daily time with the Lord. God has fresh manna for us each day. If we try to live on yesterday’s bread from the Lord, we will find it rotted. (Exodus 16) Many people feel that this time needs to be first thing in the morning. We must first be filled if we are going to overflow the love of Christ to others throughout our day. Jesus sets a wonderful example in Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place where he prayed.” This does not mean that there will be times when exceptions need to be made. There are days that my daughter wakes earlier than usual or a crying baby kept me awake all night. It is not a matter of legalism, but rather a matter of priority. On those days where I cannot rise early, I simply pray, “Lord, please stay near to me until I can get to you this morning.” Then at the first break in my day, usually when I lay my daughter down for her morning nap, I have my time with the Lord. Those times should be the exception and not the rule. Go backwards from the time that you have to be completely ready in the morning, and figure out what time you need to get up in order to have everything accomplished and have quality time with the Lord. I understand that at different junctures in our lives, an hour of quiet is a rare commodity. I simply ask us to be honest with the evaluation of our time, and make God a priority.
Daily Prayer. This is not just a time to list your needs to the Lord, although supplication should be a regular part of your prayer life. This is a time to communicate with your best friend. Communication is two ways, so always be sure to have moments of stillness where you can listen to the Lord. I love the Psalms. They are simply prayers to the Lord. They are so full of passion and honesty. There are times when the Psalmist is bursting with praise and there are other times when he is wondering where God has gone. We will never experience true intimacy with the Lord until we learn to be honest with God. There are times that we are angry with God, confused and hurt by life, unsure where He is, and afraid. He already knows our hearts. Why do we try to put smiles on our faces when our hearts are broken? When we go to the Lord in honesty then He can comfort and answer us. He can address the issues we are struggling with. He is our Father. Let Him be your daddy. “…but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:15b-16 The Aramaic meaning for Abba is Daddy. Tell Him what you are excited about, what makes you happy; what makes you nervous, and so on. Yes, we must fear the Lord and walk in reverence towards Him, but we must also walk in closeness with Him. “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.” Psalm 139:1-4
Daily Bible Reading. Some people use devotional books, some read through certain books of the Bible, others do specific searches, but whatever your personal method you must get into the Word of God every day. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 I use all of those methods. Let me encourage you though, if you are using a devotional book, do not just read the one Scripture at the beginning of the devotional. Go back and read the chapter, find out the context. Always open your Bible! Also, I recommend that if you are working through a specific in-depth study, you should set aside a separate time for that. Your time with the Lord needs to be a time when God can direct you, speak words of encouragement, conviction, or direction. If you are focused on looking up definitions, working through historical contexts, or other specific study techniques often you miss what the Lord wants to say. I do, however, do topical studies during my devotional time. I set aside my in-depth studying for a separate time.
In-depth Study. This does not have to be a scheduled daily time, but it does need to be a regular part of your life. We need to be students of the Word of God. A disciple is “a learner under discipline”. It is through Scripture memorization, learning historical contexts, and cross-referencing verses, that we see the whole picture of God and His plans for His people. Psalm 119
Sensitivity to the Lord throughout the day. This is one that we often leave behind. I am frequently guilty of having a wonderful time with Jesus in the morning and then not thinking about Him again until I say my prayers at night. We need to be sensitive to the Lord’s presence at every moment, just as the mother is of the child in her womb. Sing praise songs throughout the day, recite Scripture while cleaning the house, keep your eyes open for ministry opportunities, and be sensitive to His intercessory proddings throughout the day. “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” John 17:22-23a Author Jan Johnson, has a wonderful book about being intimate with God in every moment of our day entitled Enjoying the Presence of God 2, and I consider it a must read!
These are the “biggies”. These are the areas that I feel are simply non-negotiable in a healthy, thriving walk with Jesus. There are many other things you can do. Journaling is wonderful. Keep track of what the Lord is speaking into your life. Find books to read that will encourage you in your walk with Christ. Get an accountability partner, someone who knows you inside out and will help keep you on the right path.
As we delve now into some practical areas of being women of God, let us hold fast to this truth: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”